Google Alerts Tell Google What Topics are Popular

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Google Alerts Interface

I really enjoy using alerts from Google and Yahoo that send me information about topics that are interesting to me.

For example, I have one alert set up for my town and state name, so I can see what’s being written about it in the news and the web. It sometimes captures information that doesn’t show up in one of the local papers.

Alerts for company names and people’s names can be useful too. It doesn’t hurt to know when someone is writing about you or your company, or one of your competitors.

If you’re interested in sports, or movies, or certain people, and perform a search on them, you may look through a lot of sites on the web. It’s nice to be informed when something new appears, and using alerts can help you with that, too.

What benefits might there be to the search engines to offer alerts?

For one thing, they might tell Google or Yahoo what people are interested in. A new Google patent application discusses how Google might use information about alerts to find out what topics are timely and how they might be able to use that information.

Generation of topical subjects from alert search terms
Invented by Adam D. Smith, Brian Singerman, and Naga Sridhar Kataru
US Patent Application 20070073708
Published March 29, 2007
Filed: September 28, 2005


Topical subjects are identified from search terms that are submitted by users registering for alerts. In one implementation, registration requests to transmit email alerts to a user are received and stored. Topical subjects are identified based on an analysis of the email alerts that were registered in a predetermined time frame.

One of the things that are helpful to search engines is that they know who the people are who are signing up to receive alerts by collecting registration information from them.

Another is that this alert information can be aggregated, and used in a few different ways. For instance, Google notes:

For example, the topical alerts may be displayed to users on a web page as topics that are currently popular, presented to users as possible alerts that they may be interested in receiving, or used to assist in ranking search results of search engine 120.

Presently, Google allows you to set Google alerts that include receiving information from news, blogs, Web, groups, or all four of those. You can also set a frequency of how often you would like to receive alerts – Once a day, as it happens, or once a week.

The topical subject aggregator may be paying attention to the frequency of people signing up to receive alerts on new topics, and that may be one indicator to them of whether the topic is a popular one.

There are some details on how this information might be used. For example, a display of the “most popular alerts of the week” might be shown to people.

The patent application mentions but doesn’t go into detail on how this popularity might be used to influence the rankings of search results.

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22 thoughts on “Google Alerts Tell Google What Topics are Popular”

  1. Oh, man…tough math question today. Two digits.

    But, back on topic…

    I make pretty heavy use of Google Alerts — monitoring reputation for clients, for myself, monitoring topics of interest, etc. It’s a very valuable resource, once you get used to the noise. Some of the more general searches tend to bring in a lot of irrelevancy, unfortunately.

    Interesting to think how Alerts could influence the search engines themselves — combined with click tracking, for example: cross reference the alerts received and the items actually visited to see what documents were of the greatest interest within those alerts.

  2. Bill, I recently set up Google alerts for the main keywords of my site. Some of the information I get is outdated, some is relevant, you kind of have to search through it to find what really interest you. I am just building my site, new to seo, but in the process of learning. I have a blog at wordpress now and I’m in the process to move it to my own hosting: to It’s a big challenge for me, but I’m already documenting myself. Thanks for all the good information.

  3. Google = Spy on people by giving them tools. All of google’s tools spy. Right from the webstats tool to the recent webmaster tool which shows you all backlinks. Give one tool and get a heap load of powerful information to benefit from.. pretty good strategy I wud say.. btw I signed up for google alerts today to tell google what I think is popular

  4. Interesting to think how Alerts could influence the search engines themselves…

    I guess that’s one of the takeaways from this patent – that interactions with any of the search engines might be measured and used. The wrong choice of a keyword phrase can result in a lot of noise – I like using pretty narrow ones, even if I don’t see results too frequently.

    Cross referencing alerts with clicks sounds interesting.

    SEO practices – I hope the transition over to the new domain goes well for you. I like tracking some keywords, too. Even some that you aren’t using, but might be considering the use of in the future. And some keywords are helpful for coming up with information for blog posts.

    Hi Tom,

    There is that aspect to using the search engines – that they will look closely at how people use them, and the things that they offer. Getting that kind of feedback may be very helpful to them to let them know what works and what doesn’t. But there is that aspect of them collecting that kind of information that can be uncomfortable.

  5. Bill I was thinking along the same lines as Joe while reading this post. I can see how tracking Alerts would become part of Personalized Search and influence results by measuring click throughs.

    Another possibility could be tracking alerts to see what people are looking for and then creating it.

    Just one more way Google can track user behavior and I’d think most any way they can use their other data they could use the Alerts data as well.

  6. I think you’re right, Steven. Those are some approaches that could be considered in how to use this kind of data.

    The patent reminded me a little of a paper from Google last year involving personalized search, in which search history and clickthroughs might be used to try to understand someone’s standing interests and provide alerts to them based upon that user history rather than keywords.

    In a few ways, it’s sort of the mirror image of what you are suggesting – using alert history to inform results shown to a user based upon interests suggested in their choice of Alert keywords. The paper is Retroactive Answering of Search Queries (pdf).

    There’s some interesting research concerning the usage of Web alerts in that paper. I wonder how much the authors of the paper, and the listed inventors on the patent have talked together or compared notes.

  7. Something just came to me.

    Isn’t it kind of scary the amount of data google has on us? I for one us the toolbar, alerts, adwords, adsense, gmail, spreadsheets, docs, analytics, checkout….I pretty much use all their services.

    I’m sure they use it in some way to tailor the ads that are shown to me. There are others that think they will use it to influence SERPS as well

  8. One of the good or bad things about Google alerts for blog search is that each time someone writes a new comment on a post, you get an alert.

    I frequently get alerts to comments on posts that are 2 years old.

    It is a great way to pickup discussion on certain topics over a wider spectrum of blogs than you could handle in a feed reader.

  9. Good point, Andy.

    I’ve also received Web alerts on forum posts that were more than two years old, too. It took me a little while to figure out why the alert came up with the forum post being so old, but there was a pretty recent post in the thread.

  10. Thanks for the valuable information. I had heard of alerts but did not know the details.


  11. This is great news! For those competitor sites that have thousands of links, we can now find them all thanks to Google Alerts. Before you could sample a few via inlinks and back link checks. Very helpful as an SEO tool, IMO.


  12. Hi Shane,

    Google alerts might not be the best tool for uncovering links from competitors sites. They also won’t necessarily tell you about all of the results that they might see for specific terms. They can bring you some interesting information from time to time, however.

  13. Hi Shane,

    I am getting more useful information from saving RSS feeds from search results at Google News than I am from alerts. If you haven’t set some of those up, it might be worth trying.

  14. I pesonally use Google Alerts for catching fresh blog posts related to my keywords. Apart from spying on your competitors, it’s also a good tool for keeping the eye on what’s been happening in your niche / on your topic / you choose… Also, if you create an alert on the keyword you personally blog about, you can see if your blog is seen by G or not.

    It is useful to have both RSS reader AND Alerts enabled. Yes, I’m well aware that Google (spies on us) collects tons of data rekated to many facets of our online and offline activities. However, that’s the price we pay for using their great services. If you don’t want to trade your identity to Google for a bunch of “free” services, maybe using alternative services (provided they are available) isn’t a bad idea: a desktop rss reader insted of Google Reader, albums instead of Picasa… Well, you get the idea.

  15. Hi Ron,

    Alerts and RSS feeds together do provide a way of being somewhat vigilent about things you might be interested in.

    It’s not always easy to find good alternatives for some of the services that Google provides for free, but it is possible.

  16. I use G Alerts for relevant and current topics related to my website. It helps me keep content current and up-to-date.

    I’ve also used Alerts for my off-line businesses – keeping track of what my competitors are doing…

    The only thing I am a little reluctant about is what several of the other posters have mentioned, and that is the data being collected by G… sometime I feel they are turning into (or feeding information to, Big Brother (I know that sounds a bit paranoid).

  17. Hi Nick,

    I’m not using as many alerts as I once used to use. But I still find them pretty useful as a way of keeping up to date with certain topics, and with what competitors are doing.

    Google is collecting so much information that I suspect is probably more useful to them in the aggregate than involving specific individuals. But I definitely understand and appreciate your concern, and share it myself.

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